A “roaming screening series” has set up shop in venues across New York City and unofficially dubbed July queer cinema month. Maybe you’ve seen the posters around town for Dirty Looks: On Location, which the organizers are calling “a series of queer interventions” in the form of performance art, but mostly cinema inside LGBT cultural landmarks, art institutions, DIY spaces, and even in places where the ghosts of queer past linger, like defunct bathhouses and former meeting spots. Screenings are showcasing not just classics of gay cinema but recent efforts by local up-and-comings.
There’s a film or an event happening each night for the month of July, and there’s plenty to choose from including documentary works, experimental film, classics of gay porn, and indie films. And many of the works included don’t even have US distribution, so this might be the only place you can see them.
Screening at Pyramid Club on July 26 is An Evening with John Sex! – A true story, a documentary film about the legendary lounge singer who performed at the Pyramid Club back in the ’80s. Tomorrow night, Saturday, July 11, Secret Project Robot will host a screening of Dzi Croquettes, a documentary about the experimental drag scene in Brazil in the ’70s. On Monday, catch a series of shorts by contemporary feminist filmmakers at the Bureau of General Services Queer Division. Even The Doom Generation is screening.
Now a bi-annual event, Dirty Looks is building on its previous iterations by expanding outward into holding screenings at even more non-traditional venues, which has always been the event’s forte. For example, during the very first On Location, one film was shown inside what Bradford Nordeen, the organization’s creative director, said was a “jack-off booth” at The Blue Store in Chelsea (a porn store that was closed briefly in 2005 after a prostitution bust). “People would go in and feed their dollar into the buddy booth and watch the artist’s video,” Bradford recalled. “It was funny because people would say they were scared to do it, but they did it anyway.”
That’s what Dirty Looks is all about, both getting people out of their regular routines and also encouraging them to think critically about spaces, context, film, and history. “We’ve done a screening at The Eagle before this year too but, you know, The Eagle’s a leather bar, so people are perhaps somewhat trepidatious to engage with that environment,” Bradford said. “But they’ll go because this activates the space in a different way.”
Bradford said when Dirty Look succeeds in getting people out of their normal habitats, it naturally foments conversation amongst groups of people who might not otherwise interact. One particular screening “sparked an amazing conversation between the 20-something art kids who came to Julius to see the work and the elderly gentlemen who were always stationed at the bar.”
Getting LGBT films out of traditional screening environments allows the organizers to be true to their history. Bradford recounted convincing one filmmaker to screen his documentary, Tearoom– a film made from old, found police footage behind a two-way mirror inside a public restroom in Mansfield, Ohio– inside of a bar. “It’s essentially a document of gay sex in 1951,” Bradford explained. “I approached Bill and I was like,’ I wanna show this as a one-time screening installed in Julius bar.’ And Bill was like ‘Nope, I don’t do bar screenings.'”
Bradford pressed the filmmaker. “I was like, ‘No, you do– this bar screening, anyway.’ Because actually this isn’t about a casual engagement of the work, it’s about taking this material back to the social site that begot the work, where the people were hanging out, where they were cruising, where sociality existed. Bars were a gay church, essentially.”
Though some screenings do happen in places like Anthology Film Archives, the whole idea is to engage the space as well. “What is a museum? Is it actually a space devoid of context where you can see the work purely?” Bradford said. “No, it creates its own context, so this is kind of about creating an ulterior context, a social, queer communal context for the work to sort of live outside of the white box.”
Venues this year include The Eagle (once again) and the Stonewall, both gay historical landmarks in their own right, but also places like The Spectrum, Secret Project Robot, and Don Pedro, all places where new waves of queer culture are living right now. The venues are as diverse as the programming, that’s because the story of queer history and gay culture now, as told by Dirty Looks, isn’t limited to one viewpoint.
“We have four curatorial team members, of which I’m a part, and there are eight additional emerging curators, so there are twelve different individual visions,” Bradford explained. “It’s a myriad of different curatorial voices that run the gamut from archivists, activists, curators, artists, all sort of either celebrating work that’s taking place in New York City now or also envisioning what a past might have looked like and using film or video to graft that past onto existing spaces.”
But there’s also a focus on some more amorphous locations, like the reactivation of the Clit Club, a weekly sex-positive lesbian party that ran for 12 straight years in different locations around the downtown area. And don’t forget to RSVP to get the deets on a secret location for a screening happening inside a hotel room on Tuesday, July 14.
Anyone familiar with the Bushwick drag scene has a lot to look forward to. On July 27, the weekly drag show troupe that recently hung up their heels, Bath Salts, will convene for a reunion show at Don Pedro. “I’m a huge fan or scholar or whatever you want to say, of the Pyramid Club and the different performers who would perform at the Whispers Lounge, which was the Drag Sunday Night cabaret that was John Kelly, Hattie Hathaway, later Vaginal Davis and Ru Paul,” Bradford said. “And when I first walked into Bath Salts three years ago, I was like, ‘This is that.'”
While there’s a definite focus on queer history in Dirty Looks’ programming, Bradford is careful to eschew simple nostalgia. “The first year we did this, the New York Times wrote it up, and sort of heavy on their lips was the idea of nostalgia,” he explained. “And that flagging of nostalgia is something I’m fiercely opposed to because history is alive, and history influences us.”
He said that Bath Salts carried the same “energy” as the Pyramid Club, “But we’re not trying to rekindle the past, but celebrate, honor, and understand it.”
For the full schedule of events happening throughout July for Dirty Looks On Location, click here.